The Afghanistan I saw


As the flight touched down in Kabul, my weary heart skipped a beat. There was a palpable thrill of exploring and experiencing life in this beleaguered country that has embraced change after years of groping in the dark. At the same time, the nagging concerns about security and safety hung like the sword of Damocles over me. Before leaving for Kabul, the cynics and party poopers in New Delhi warned me of dire consequences. The battle-hardened Taliban guerillas, they said, will make mincemeat of you. I did not fret or fume, but the creepy thoughts in my mind fueled anxiety.


In India, for some bizarre reason, mere mention of Afghanistan sends shudders down the spine. People think of it as some beleaguered, desolate, forsaken country where humans live in mountains and caves and where life is all about the struggle for survival. Afghanistan brings to mind the macabre images of Taliban kidnapping the condemned ‘khwarijees’ (foreigners) and making their life extinct. It brings to mind the images of bomb blasts and the lifeless bodies lying in pools of blood on the streets. It brings to mind the images of unmanned drones striking whatever comes their way.

Before coming here, I had similarly corrosive perception about Afghanistan. I thought it is the living hell on earth; worse than Iraq, Bahrain, Syria or Kashmir. I imagined myself walking the deserted road in Kabul and being kidnapped by some unidentified assailants and taken to some undisclosed location. But, being an eccentric and maverick person, I took it as a challenge. Ignoring all the unsolicited advices and instructions, I packed my bags and left.

As flight slowly hovered over the rocky mountains, I wondered if Taliban had hijacked it. A typical brawny Pashtoon man was sitting next to me, chewing tobacco. I tried to pick conversation with him, but his heavily loaded Pashtoo hit me like a drone. I turned my gaze away and looked at the mountains.

At the Kabul International Airport, a fleet of ugly-looking U.S. helicopters menacingly stared at you. It was far more unnerving and nauseating than the harsh weather. The police sleuths were polite enough to escort me out. On my way, I was pleasantly amazed to hear no gunshots, no bomb blasts, no landmines, and no drone strikes. I thought I boarded the wrong flight and came to the wrong place. My driver perhaps noticed the unease and said “welcome to Kabul”. “Why is it so calm today,” I asked. He said Afghanistan is dangerous place only in newspaper columns and prime time television shows.

His words echoed in my mind. In the days that followed, the Afghanistan I saw was different from the Afghanistan my friends had warned me about. I could freely roam around the town, go to malls and supermarkets, enjoy sumptuous dinner at a high-end eatery in Shehr e Naw, drive to Bibi Mehru hill, or simply go out for a walk. I saw no gun-toting Taliban wreaking havoc in Kabul. I saw no U.S drone flying overhead. I saw no Pashtoo speaking ill of Hazara. I saw a beautiful city with hustle and bustle. I saw glitzy malls and big supermarkets. I saw tremendous rush in restaurants and fast-food outlets. I saw luxury cars moving on the roads. I was plush residential houses. I saw quality of life. I saw people mocking Taliban and U.S. in same breath. I saw Afghanistan that has bounced back strongly and embraced change.

Yes, there was a blast in Kabul days before the high-profile meeting of Loya Jirga, but those are sporadic incidents that happen everywhere in the world. My perception about Afghanistan has dramatically changed after coming here. I think it is time the world also understands and acknowledges the reality of new, progressive and stable Afghanistan. –

Source: Afghan Zariza (


Afghanistan continues to be the world’s most corrupt country

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Transparency International’s 2013 corruption index, the biggest and most comprehensive survey, puts Afghanistan at the bottom with Somalia and North Korea

For the second year on trot, Afghanistan lags at the bottom of the Berlin-based Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index for 2013, making it the most corrupt country in the world. Afghanistan shares the dubious distinction with North Korea and Somalia.

Twelve years after the Taliban regime was toppled and the international community intervened in Afghanistan, corruption has become alarmingly rampant and a source of concern for the Afghan government and foreign donors. The country has nosedived in the Transparency International charts since 2007, when it stood eight positions up from the bottom.

Earlier this year, the lawmakers in Afghan parliament entered into a serious verbal spat, throwing allegations of corruption at each other, after Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal accused lawmakers of demanding lucrative foreign business contracts and free houses. After the shameful episode, the Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan came down heavily on the foreign aid and military organizations, holding them responsible for encouraging corruption in the country.

The survey results are based on the perceptions of analysts and business leaders from across the world. Denmark and New Zealand are again perched on the top of table, followed by Finland and Sweden. The United States again trails behind Britain, Germany, Canada and many Scandinavian countries.

Transparency International’s 2013 corruption index, the biggest and most comprehensive survey that tracks public opinion on corruption, examined the level of graft in 177 countries. It lays bare differences in how these countries deal with cases of corruption at home. According to the survey, the level of corruption has jumped alarmingly over the past two years.

The 2013 index gives countries the score from 0 to 100, where 0 is a perception for ‘most corrupt’ and 100 is a perception for ‘least corrupt’. The survey uses 13 data sources to construct the index.

However, some experts feel the index results this year are largely dubious. In an article for Foreign Policy magazine earlier this year, titled ‘Corrupting Perceptions’, Alex Cobham said Transparency International should drop the index and focus on generating better evidence of actual corruption or information about how corruption affects citizens. “Perceptions are not facts and in this case they may be an unhelpfully distorted reflection of the truth,” writes Mr. Cobham. “The index corrupts perceptions to the extent that it’s hard to see a justification for its continuing publication.”

Some assert that it is practically impossible to convey the complexity of issues like corruption in single number and compare countries based on that number. “The index gets much-needed attention, but it overshadows other activities and exposes it to criticism,” read a 2010 article in the Economist, calling CPI the “murk meter”.

Transparency International, however, defends its approach, arguing that index is the most reliable method of comparing relative corruption levels between countries. “There is no meaningful way to assess absolute levels of corruption in countries or territories on the basis of hard empirical data. Possible attempts to do so, such as by comparing bribes reported, the number of prosecutions brought or studying court cases directly linked to corruption, cannot be taken as definitive indicators of corruption levels. Instead, they show how effective prosecutors, the courts or the media are in investigating and exposing corruption,” it says on its website.

 (First published in Afghan Zariza)